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NBA refs feel too vulnerable

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

NEW YORK — Whether Jeff Van Gundy is retained as Houston's coach is up to the Rockets, but the league needs to do a better job of defending its game officials from criticism by coaches, the spokesman for the National Basketball Referees Association said Tuesday.

Lamell McMorris, the lead negotiator for the NBRA, said the NBA's response to Van Gundy's comments about league officials targeting Rockets center Yao Ming was unacceptable. However, McMorris did not call for Van Gundy's job, as he did in a statement Monday night.

''Van Gundy is really not the issue here, per se,'' McMorris said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''Van Gundy and whether or not he'll be retained is up to the Houston Rockets.

''The real issue is the culture that I feel has been created where referees are the easy scapegoat. Where it is easy to allege, easy to accuse and easy to attack the referees. Even easy and acceptable to question the integrity of the referees publicly.''

The league fined Van Gundy $100,000 — the largest assessed against a coach — after the coach said that an official who was not working the playoffs told him that Yao was being targeted following complaints by Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston's first-round opponent.

On Monday, Van Gundy clarified his comments, saying when he referred to an NBA official, he was not talking about a game official and was intentionally vague when people inferred he meant a referee.

The NBA said it was satisfied with Van Gundy's explanation and he would not be disciplined further. McMorris then put out a statement saying, ''The matter will truly be closed only when Van Gundy is fired.''

On Tuesday, McMorris shifted his focus from Van Gundy to the league.

''One thing we should observe or note is that at no time during the last week did the NBA or Van Gundy come to the defense of the refs,'' McMorris said.

Commissioner David Stern had said the league would investigate Van Gundy's remarks and he threatened more punishment — perhaps even banishment — if Van Gundy did not cooperate.

Speaking Tuesday in Miami, where he watched the Heat-Wizards playoff game, Stern said he considers the issue to be over.

''I was most concerned about the carriage for an entire week of the fact that Jeff had gotten a phone call from a referee,'' Stern said. ''That's what the media said. That's what he didn't take any pains to correct. ... I wanted to give him the opportunity to retract that, because we knew it to be false.''

Stern also had harsh words for McMorris, saying he was ''a little bit over his head in dealing with these difficult issues.''

''If the head of the referees' association was smart, he'd stop issuing press releases,'' Stern said.

Rockets GM Carroll Dawson declined to comment on McMorris' remarks.

''That's behind us. This has gone on too long. W fight.

For nine rounds they went toe-to-toe in one of the most thrilling fights of recent times. Then, in a 10th round that will forever live in boxing lore, Corrales stopped Castillo in an ending so magnificent even Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.

Half blinded and just about to be counted out after being knocked down for the second time in the round, Corrales somehow got off the canvas and then finished off Castillo with a flurry of punches on the ropes.

It was a reminder for why the sport still holds such a hook for us despite its many failings. This was mano a mano, sport at its most basic and most brilliant.

There's another fight Saturday night that has the potential to be pretty good, too. Big punching Felix Trinidad, a national hero in Puerto Rico, will meet Winky Wright, a fabulous boxer who is just now starting to get his due, in a middleweight fight.

Both stay out of trouble, act like professionals in the ring, and wouldn't think of biting anyone's ear, much less eating their children. They don't care that the fight is not for a title because there are so many titles these days that fans don't care about them, either.

The fight will be supervised by the Nevada Athletic Commission, which sets the gold standard for boxing regulation, and the fighters will be tested for illegal drugs, including steroids. If neither fighter stops the other, three ringside judges will do their best to figure out the winner.

It's not a perfect system, but it sure beats the way they calculate winners in Olympic gymnastics and figure skating.

Yes, boxing is an easy target and, often times, rightfully so. You can easily make a case that it needs federal regulation just to save the sport from itself.

But, for two Saturday nights in a row from Las Vegas, boxing looks pretty good, warts and all.

————

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org



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